Soft pretzels are a specialty of the Bavarian region of southern Germany. They are a popular snack item in the German beer halls throughout the year, and especially during Oktoberfest. They are traditionally boiled in a water and lye bath to create the distinctive dark brown color and chewy exterior. A safer alternative for home cooks is to boil them in a milder alkaline solution made from water and baking soda. In the beer halls they are often served with Obatzda, a bavarian beer cheese spread.
Yield: 8 large pretzels
1 (1/4-oz) pkg. active-dry or instant yeast (2 ¼ teaspoons if using bulk yeast)
1 ½ cups warm water (about 110 degrees)
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
4 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour, or as needed
2 teaspoons kosher salt
4 tablespoons butter (1/2 stick), melted
2 quarts water
1/3 cup baking soda
1 tablespoon water
Kosher or pretzel salt for topping
If using active dry yeast: Combine the yeast, warm water, and sugar in a small bowl and set aside for about 5 minutes until it becomes bubbly. If using instant yeast: the yeast can be combined with the other ingredients straight-away.
Combine the yeast mixture from above with 4 cups of the flour, salt, and melted butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment. Stir to combine the mixture and then mix on medium speed until the dough is smooth and elastic, adding the additional flour, if necessary, a tablespoon at a time. Mix for about 4-5 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic.
Scrape the dough onto a silicone mate (or lightly oiled countertop) and knead until satiny smooth, about 1 minute. Place the dough in a lightly oiled mixing bowl; turn the dough over to grease the entire ball. Cover with plastic wrap or a towel and allow to rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.
Lightly oil 2 rimmed baking sheets. Preheat oven to 450 degrees (425 convection).
Place the water in a large stainless steel stock pot and add the baking soda. Bring to a boil and turn down to a gentle simmer until pretzels are shaped.
While water is heating, punch down the dough to deflate. Turn onto a lightly oiled work surface. Using a bench scraper, cut the dough in half and then each half into quarters to achieve 8 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a long, narrow rope that is about 2 feet long. Make a “U” shape with each rope, crossing the ends to make a loop. Lift the ends and twist and fold over toward the bottom of the “U” to make a pretzel shape. Pinch to seal the overlapped dough together.
Combine the egg and water and beat together to make an egg wash.
Bring the soda water bath back to a boil and drop the pretzels into the water one or two at a time and cook for 1 minute, flipping about half-way. Use a large spatula (slotted is preferred) to transfer the pretzels from the bath to a wire rack set on a baking sheet to drain.
Place the pretzels onto the oiled baking sheets, and brush with the egg wash, sprinkle with kosher or pretzel salt. Bake in the preheated oven until dark golden brown, about 15 minutes. Remove from the oven, and transfer to a wire cooling rack to cool slightly before serving, about 2-3 minutes. Serve warm with mustard and other condiments like Bavarian Obatzda.
Once pretzels are completely cool, they may be frozen in zip-seal bags or sealed containers for about a month.
To reheat: Place frozen pretzels (do not thaw) directly on the rack of a preheated 400 degree oven and bake for about 10 minutes. Serve immediately.